Award-winning prep latest to get the chop

12th February 2010 at 00:00
High-performing Cliff School in Wakefield will close in July due to falling rolls

Original paper headline: Award-winning prep latest to get the chop as recession's axe swings again

A prep school that has previously come top of private school league tables is the latest independent to announce it will close due to falling rolls.

Owner Alpha Plus Group, which runs 21 schools, nurseries and colleges across the country, has blamed the recession for its decision to axe Cliff School in Wakefield from July.

Around 41 staff face losing their jobs in the move, which follows at least 12 other straight closures of independent schools and a series of mergers since January last year.

The decision, based on falling pupil numbers during the economic downturn, has come as a surprise to some, as Cliff School came top of the Sunday Times Parent Power list in 2002. That year, all 11-year-olds at the school scored a level 5 in English and maths, despite it being non-selective.

At the time, pupil numbers were healthy at 180, but there are now just 134 children aged three to 11 on roll.

Later, in 2005, the school was ranked as the top prep in Yorkshire and in the top 50 nationwide.

Alpha Plus Group, which also runs Wetherby Pre-Prep, the London school attended by princes William and Harry, said in a statement: "It is with great regret that we have to confirm Cliff School will be closing at the end of this academic year.

"The economic downturn has undermined our efforts to increase pupil numbers in the school, and despite outstanding efforts by the headteacher and his staff, and significant investment, its continuing operation is not sustainable educationally, socially or financially."

The closure of Cliff School is unusual in that it is owned by one of the country's largest chains of schools. The vast majority of closures during the economic downturn have been made by small independently run establishments.

Bolitho School in Penzance, Cornwall, was saved from closure last month after a buyout was agreed with Global Education Management Systems, an international chain.

The announcement that Cliff School is to close comes just days after Brantwood School, an independent institution for girls in Nether Edge, Sheffield, said it would have to shut down at the end of the week if additional funding could not be found.

Governors at the school say the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), 84 per cent of which is now owned by the taxpayer, has refused to bail it out until the end of the summer because of a disagreement over the value of the school property.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which represents teachers in private schools, has reacted angrily to the decision, which means 128 pupils will have to move schools during the most vital part of the year.

John Richardson, national official for independent schools at the ATL, said: "It is totally unacceptable for a school to close with only nine days' notice, leaving staff without a job and pupils scrabbling for places.

"These are pupils who are due to take their GCSEs in a couple of months, not tins of baked beans which can get shunted around from shop to shop with no detrimental impact."

"We note that RBS is only too happy to pull the plug on a school even though it was itself bailed out by taxpayers not so long ago."

John Boyington, chair of governors at the school, said parents were meeting this week to discuss if there was a way to keep the school going, at least to the end of the year.

"As a parent of a pupil at the school, I am devastated," he said.

The casualties

There have been nine independent school mergers since January 2009, and 12 schools have announced closure. Those 12 are:

  1. Morley Hall Preparatory, Derbyshire
  2. Windmill House, Leicestershire
  3. Arley House, Nottinghamshire
  4. Alcuin School, Leeds
  5. St Margaret's, West Sussex
  6. Baston School, Kent
  7. Belcanto London Academy Theatre, London
  8. Stoke Brunswick School, West Sussex
  9. Attenborough Prep, Nottinghamshire
  10. Arundale, West Sussex
  11. Cliff School, Wakefield
  12. Brantwood School, Sheffield
    1. Source: ATL.

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